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Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay-Z and Kanye West

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kanye jay z feat Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Feature artwork by Cap Blackard

After several delays, Kanye West and Jay-Z’s enormously anticipated joint album, Watch the Throne, will finally be released on August 8th. But let’s not forget that this is far from the first time the two artists have teamed up. In fact, it was Jay who thrust West into the limelight in the first place: After producing “This Can’t Be Life” for Hov’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia album and handling several of the tracks for its follow-up, 2001’s seminal The Blueprint, West went from little-known beatsmith to full-fledged super-producer in just under a year. Ever since, the artists have collaborated frequently, hooking up for songs like “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)”, “Run This Town”, and “Monster”.

Here, we’ve compiled 22 of the greatest and most important moments that Yeezy and Hov have yielded together. Some feature ‘Ye on the beat and Jay on the mic, while others feature rapping from both. Whatever the case, you can be sure that greatness lies within most of the tracks covered here; these guys tend to bring out the best in each other. That’s why we’re expecting big things from Watch the Throne and why you should be, too.

– Mike Madden
Contributing Writer

“This Can’t Be Life” (2000)

the dynasty roc la familia Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

“This Can’t Be Life” announced the beginning of a creative partnership between Jay and Kanye, four years before West’s first solo record. Featuring on the 2000 Roc La Familia album, the track features the heady talents of Beanie Sigel and Scarface, and a beautiful sample of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ “I Miss You” (also sampled by Big Boi on “Shine Blockas”); this kind of vocal sampling would become a signature of West’s production style in subsequent years. It evidenced a certain foresight in Jay-Z, who chose to use upcoming producers such as Kanye, Just Blaze, and The Neptunes, instead of the more established sounds of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, as he had in his Vol.2 and Vol. 3 records previously. -Siobhán Kane

Jay-Z – “This Can’t Be Life” (feat. Beanie Sigel & Scarface) (prod. Kanye West)

“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (2001)

jay z izzo hova Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and its 2001 source The Blueprint brought Jay-Z from a towering rapper in the game to rap royalty. But it was the first time most had even heard the name Kanye West. And the industry, complacently fat in platinum-in-a-week sales figures, sat up and took notice. The “streets was watching,” too (and so was Friendster). It would be another three years until The College Dropout that folks on MySpace would not only know West’s name but be compelled to understand him. In hindsight, it only seems natural that “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, one of Jay-Z’s best singles up to now, would be on The Blueprint, considered to be one of the best records in rap history. One need only look back at “Izzo”, Kanye and Jay’s first high-profile collaboration, to see that together, they were a dynamic duo capable of making rap history. -Paul de Revere

Jay-Z – “Izzo (H.O.V.A.) (prod. Kanye West)

“Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” (2001)

jay z blueprint Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Kanye got his foot in Jay-Z’s door with his signature sampling, but this track off Jay’s incendiary The Blueprint may be the most clear-cut example of Yeezy’s unique throwback R&B production style. Using a good portion of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s 1974 hit “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” as a solid foundation, Kanye constructed a track that was cleaner and more innovative than anything being released at the time. It also provided the perfect platform for Jay-Z to throw down some of the most potent verses on his legendary album. Did we mention it’s easily got one of the catchiest hooks in rap history? -Winston Robbins

Jay-Z – “Heart of a City (Ain’t No Love)” (prod. Kanye West)

“A Dream”

jay z blueprint 2 Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Kanye expanded a little on the vocal sampling style in Jay-Z’s “A Dream” in 2002, by using Notorious B.I.G.’s classic “Juicy” from 1994. There is a poignancy here, and a homage, considering “Juicy” was Biggie’s first single from his debut album “Ready to Die”, which in turn sampled Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit”; so perhaps Kanye’s approach makes this track one of the first post-modern in hip-hop. This was one of the better songs to pay respect to Biggie’s talent and influence, and acknowledged that in some ways, he was the blueprint (the title of Jay-Z’s record) for a whole generation of rappers, as Jay says in a startling freestyle at the end, “what he said I said has been said before, just keep doing your thing, he said, say no more.” -Siobhán Kane

“A Dream” (feat. Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G.) (prod. Kanye West)

“’03 Bonnie & Clyde” (2002)

jay z blueprint 2 Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

West’s stint as producer on “03 Bonnie & Clyde” (for Jay’z’s The Blueprint 2) came along with a smattering of samples, and a hint of controversy. During a time of speculation on the relationship between Jay-z and Beyonce, the single served as a jumping off point for the couple, with Jay-z lyrically dubbing the pair the “03 Bonnie and Clyde”. West worked with a wide array of inspiration, sampling both Tupac’s “Me and My Girlfriend”, and Prince’s “If I was Your Girlfriend”, creating a billboard smash. Songstress Toni Braxton would later accuse Jay-Z and West of stealing her idea to sample Tupac, accusations both denied. -Lauren Rearick

Jay-Z “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” (feat. Beyoncé) (prod. Kanye West)

“The Bounce” (2002)

jay z blueprint 2 Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

After years of lamenting the record industry’s unwillingness to gamble on him as a rapper, West was finally given a shot on this Blueprint 2 track. Featured on The Gift, the same disc that featured West’s production on “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” and “A Dream”, and the Blueprint 2.1 reissue, the Timabaland-produced cut sees West referencing Billboard, MTV, and even quoting the Gingerbread Man from Shrek. Okay, not the most compelling lyrics, but having finally gotten his voice on an album track, West likely wasn’t complaining. -Ben Kaye

Jay-Z – “The Bounce” (feat. Kanye West)

“Exuse Me” (remix) (2003)

excuse me Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

From The Blueprint 2, “Excuse Me Miss” was a delight; produced by The Neptunes with that stuttering quality (that has become a staple of theirs), it really works, but it is actually Kanye’s remix later on which takes the imagination. Replete with chopped up samples, there is a more mellow feel to the whole enterprise,and the beat is fantastic, ably joining the dots between nostalgia and modernity, showcasing a producer at the height of his powers and confidence, taking on his producer contemporaries and surpassing their original concept, even contributing a couple of verses near the end, indicating which direction he might go in, “I got a plan B that’s planned out.” -Siobhán Kane

Jay-Z – “Exuse Me Miss” (remix) (feat. Kanye West)

“Encore” (2003)

jay z black album Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

“Encore”, off of 2003’s The Black Album, has Kanye West’s production value stamped all over it. West samples the instrumental from John Holt’s 1974 cover of the Beatles’ “I Will”, foreshadowing the use of skittering handclaps and Curtis Mayfield’s triumphant horns on Late Registration’s “Touch the Sky”. West himself, GLC, Jay-Z’s manager Don Crawley, and John Legend hype H.O.V.A. along with the track’s cheering audience, a bittersweet reminder that The Black Album was supposedly the rapper’s last. (The Black Album also lost to ‘Ye’s debut, The College Dropout, at the Grammys that year, perhaps ushering the end of an era; that is, until Jay’s next album.) -Harley Brown

Jay-Z – “Encore” (prod. Kanye West)

“Lucifer” (2003)

jay z black album Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

If there’s a single staple of West’s production style, it’s his ability to transform an unlikely sample into the basis of an absolute banger. Case in point: the looped, pitched-up slice of Max Romeo‘s “Chase the Devil” that powers “Lucifer”. Not long after The Black Album was released, rumors began to circulate that this song, when played backward, would reveal a satanic message, similar to what Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven” has been said to do. Of course, no such message has been identified, but Jay’s rhymes, like “I’m from the murder capital where we murder for capital,” say plenty anyway. -Mike Madden

Jay-Z – “Lucifer” (prod. Kanye West)

“Never Let Me Down” (2004)

kanye college Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

There’s a strong religious streak on Kanye’s first full album, The College Dropout, that helps to establish the spiritual base for much of Yeezy’s public and musical identity, from the poignant supplication of “Jesus Walks” to the folksy spirituality of “I’ll Fly Away.” It all comes to a peak with the gospel-flavored “Never Let Me Down,” featuring Jay-Z and a preacherly verse from J. Ivy. On Kanye’s debut solo effort, the supremely recognizable voice of Jay-Z rings out like a herald: Kanye West is on the scene, and Jay-Z lends street cred to it all. Sure, one of the verses is recycled, word for word, from Jay’s earlier “Hovi Baby (Remix),” but with Kanye’s powerful and uplifting track, and a melodic lick grabbed from none other than Michael Bolton (yes, that one), “Never Let Me Down” is one of the album’s best. -Jake Cohen

Kanye West – “Never Let Me Down” (featuring Jay-Z & J. Ivy)

“Last Call” (2004)

kanye college Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

“Last Call”, the final track from Kanye West’s full-length debut, plays out over 13 minutes. The track features Kanye essentially telling his collaborative history with Jay-Z, from their first production work together, up to the beginnings of what would become College Dropout. Recorded just before West’s explosion into the mainstream, Jay-Z appears here during the song’s introduction as the respected veteran, helping promote a talented newcomer and providing an occasional bit of commentary behind West’s extended narrative. It wouldn’t be long, though, before these two would stand on equal pedestals as hip hop powerhouses. -Austin Trunick

Kanye West – “Last Call” (feat. Jay-Z)

“Get By” (remix) (2004)

talib kweli get by Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Even today, “Get By” is arguably one of the greatest hip-hop songs ever laid down. Add in Jay-Z, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, and Mos Def, and you’ve practically got hip-hop history. While West produced the album version, Kweli invited him to drop a verse on the remix, and he dropped it hard. Released the same year as his own debut, he takes shots at record executives (“And don’t let nobody with the power to sign/ever tell you you ain’t got the power to rhyme”) and addresses his burgeoning MC career (“This’ll be the end of me, or I’m a[finally] be an entity” – we know how that turned out). Kweli’s vocals are reduced to the chorus and two small verses, but the tales of the other four “getting by” more than adequately fill the space. -Ben Kaye

Talib Kweli – “Get By” (remix) (feat. Jay-Z, Mos Def, Kanye West & Busta Rhymes)

“We Major” (remix) (2005)

kanye late registration Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Despite its celebratory disco horns and dreamlike chimes, “We Major” sprung from the infamous, longstanding feud between Jay-Z and Nas. Unbeknownst to Jay, West secretly included Nas on Late Registration‘s sprawling seven-and-a-half-minute centerpiece in hopes of resolving the differences between the two hip-hop heavy hitters. The result is one of the album’s best tracks, a freewheeling, weekend afternoon of a song that chronicles little else except bragging and smoking weed in your bedroom. But it all sounds so damn nostalgic, thanks in no small part to a golden R&B chorus from Really Doe. What’s more is that the tune actually did help end Nas and Jay-Z’s beef. The latter was impressed with the former’s work and the two became friends once more shortly after the record was released.  The truce is best exemplified by the remix of “We Major”, which showcases a seamlessly inserted Jay-Z verse from “Never Change”, off of his 2001 masterpiece, The Blueprint. While not an official studio release, the reprise is a great way to hear three hip hop legends sound like they’re rapping in the same room. -Dan Caffrey

Kanye West – “We Major” (remix) (feat. Nas & Jay-Z)

“Diamonds in the Sky” (remix) (2005)

kanye late registration Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

The single version of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” won a Grammy, but this remix is even better. Largely changing the subject matter of the original, West recorded an angry verse about the child labor tragedy in Sierra Leone that‘s been going on for the past 20 years. It’s heavy stuff, but Jay eases the tension with his verse, which includes his immortal “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” line. -Mike Madden

Kanye West – “Diamonds in the Sky” (remix) (feat. Jay-Z)

“Swagga Like Us” (2008)

swagga like us Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

The roster of participants in “Swagga Like Us” served as a who’s who of the most notable names in rap. The group included Jay-Z, Kanye, T.I., and Lil Wayne, backed by a key sampling of the phrase “No one on the corner got swagga like us,” from M.I.A.’s super-smash, “Paper Planes”. With “swagga on a hundred trillion”, producer West opened the song, his auto-tuned verses setting the stage. A successful collaboration, with each member bringing their own raw energy and flavor, the group ultimately won a Grammy and completed a memorable live performance (with then pregnant M.I.A.) at the 2009 awards. -Lauren Rearick

T.I. and Jay-Z – “Swagga Like Us” (feat. Kanye West & Lil Wayne)

“Run This Town” (2009)

run this town Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

This track sparkles and shines just a as much as its 2x Platinum status, and unless you count “Umbrella” (I most assuredly do not) it’s Jay-Z’s first time in the Platinum lounge and quite possibly he and Kanye’s most ubiquitous and paramount collaboration. Kanye’s production is laced with dramatic guitars and a military tempo which counteracts his and Jay’s all rich everything lyrics. Critics were a little hard on this song when it dropped in 2009, but I think it’s one of the many callabos that not only gets a gathering excited but also goes unskipped on my iPod. Also, “What you think I rap for/to push a fuckin’ Rav4?” is the best Toyota Rav4 reference in any song. –Jeremy D. Larson

Jay-Z – “Run This Town” (feat. Rihanna & Kanye West)

“Power” (remix)

power remix Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Early June of last year, Kanye dropped “Power” and blew the lid off of everything. Two months later, G.O.O.D. Fridays swiftly reinvigorated the song right out of the blocks with that synth note hanging over everything, and Jay coming on the mic. There’s a lot to love about this track (the Snap sample is choice) but the story of the whole song is what makes this collabo worthwhile. You got Jay-Z on the first verse serving up a cautionary tale to Kanye full of clever wordplay and even a Norman Mailer reference. Then Ye goes off the handle for three-and-a-half minutes with a string of lyrics that further defines his struggle he laid out in the original version. It’s a bit long in the tooth, but even so there’s not a wasted second on the whole remix. -Jeremy D. Larson

Kanye West – “Power” (remix) (feat. Jay-Z & Swizz Beatz)

“So Appalled” (2010)

kanyeappalled Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

“So Appalled” first appeared as part of the G.O.O.D. Fridays releases, but was one of three tracks to make the cut for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and it’s not hard to see why. The track is as guest heavy as it comes, featuring production by No I.D. and killer verses by Pusha T, Swizz Beats, CyHi da Prince, RZA, Jay-Z, and of course, Kanye himself. This is the second of two tracks on the album to feature a verse by Jay, and appears directly after the club banger, “Monster”. “Appalled” changes the mood from quick and zany to a slower, more serious tone that rings in the next few tracks on the album. -Winston Robbins

Kanye West – “So Appalled” (feat. Jay-Z, Pusha T, RZA, Swizz Beatz & Cyhi the Prynce)

“Monster” (2010)

kanye monster1 Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Everything dark and twisted on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out in the lyrics alone, except for “Monster”. Kanye pulled together a song that sounds absolutely sinister, with its boasts of “I’m a mothafuckin’ monster” and its bass-heavy, fluctuating beat. Rick Ross opens it up with about 10 seconds of instantly memorable rapping, Kanye takes the next verse and offers a solid dozen memorable lines (“have you ever had sex with a pharaoh?”), Jay takes the role of the forlorn, mad scientist, lamenting the “fake fucks” he made millionaires, and Nicki steals the entire song with her ridiculously on-point Jekyll and Hyde rhymes. It’s a song that spreads out in quite a few directions where nobody really interacts with one another, but it never feels disparate or like a “via e-mail” collaboration. Each person, save Justin Vernon, boasts his or her bravado while effectively making a “scary” song, and amazingly, it never feels gimmicky. Do you remember, say, “Nightmare On My Street” by the Fresh Prince? We’ve come a long way. -Evan Minsker

Kanye West – “Monster” (feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver & Nicki Minaj)

“The Joy” (2010)

the joy1 Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

This slow subtle track was very easily overlooked next to its contemporary G.O.O.D. Friday releases, but it was every bit as good as the others. Featuring a very straightforward sample of the vocal of Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You”, Jay-Z and Kanye both throw down very powerful verses amidst minor appearances by Kid Cudi, Pete Rock, and Charlie Wilson on the intangibles of the track. This track is especially important considering it will be included as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of Watch The Throne. The album track only credits Curtis Mayfield as a contributor, so it may be that they have stripped the track of the minor appearances of the artists on the original release and created a more bare version of the song. Only time will tell. -Winston Robbins

Kanye West – “The Joy” (feat. Pete Rock, Jay-Z, Charlie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield & Kid Cudi)

“H.A.M” (2011)

 Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Debuting online at midnight on 1/11/11, H.A.M” was the world’s first taste of the then still shrouded in mystery Kanye West/Jay-Z collaborative album. An abbreviated form of “hard as a motherfucka”, the song features tense production work by Lex Luger, with orchestration that sounds like it was ripped straight from a slasher flick. The album’s release date would be pushed back a full eight months from this point, but this track easily pushed the hype around it to even higher levels. -Austin Trunick

Kanye West & Jay-Z – “H.A.M”

“Otis”

otis artwork Rise to the Throne: The Collaborative Highlights of Jay Z and Kanye West

Sampling music is nothing new. When it’s done right, it makes you appreciate the current, while also encouraging an exploration of the past. Case in point: “Otis”, the first official single from Watch the Throne. The dynamic duo sample the 1966 version of Otis Reddings “Try a Little Tenderness”, and pair it with the soul and swagger that only two of the industry’s giants could pull off. Needless to say, Watch The Throne is primed to take the crown. -Daniel Torres

Kanye West & Jay-Z – “Otis”

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